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Enterprise architects first used the cloud to mitigate business process management infrastructure expenses. Nowadays, they are finding ways to use it for other things, too, such as application development, automation, collaboration and dynamic case management.
Organizations from small to large have benefited from cloud BPM already, but a change in just what those perks are is taking place, according to Craig Le Clair, an analyst at Forrester Research. A shift in cloud platforms is emerging as a driver toward business agility, the practice of taking a flexible approach to operations.
"It's a movement toward Salesforce, Google Cloud and Microsoft Office 365," Le Clair said. "These [vendors] are creating really robust ecosystems" that boast capabilities designed to make businesses more agile. In such environments, it's possible to download and try business applications before buying them. This allows for easier data integration and helps avoid headaches associated with on-premises work streams, he added.
"The first phase of the move to the cloud was really around avoiding infrastructure cost, but now it's business agility," Le Clair said. In a cloud platform, data is more available than ever, he said, noting that organizations don't have to worry about scalability and data integration as much.
Trending in cloud BPM
Once an organization has decided to go with a certain cloud platform, it is more inclined to use the tools available in that ecosystem, according to Le Clair. "The question is whether the traditional BPM players -- the Pegas and the Appians and so forth, will have as much value in helping coordinate that inevitable movement toward cloud BPM platforms," he added.
Carl Lehmann 451 Research
That isn't the only change taking place with BPM suites. Carl Lehmann, analyst at 451 Research, has noticed that companies buy a BPM suite to solve one problem and then realize it also serves as a good application development environment. "Within a year or so of acquiring the suites, [companies] would build six, 10, 12 business process applications," he said. "BPM suites are replacing internal application development environments within enterprises."
Some vendors have taken note of this movement. One of the early vendors to attempt to reach a broader community of developers and users heading toward the cloud was IBM, which began to offer BPM as a service more than a year and a half ago, Lehmann said. Smaller vendors, such as Nintex and Apperian, are also considered players in the market.
Another trend taking place is the move toward automation, said Susan Eustis, president, CEO and co-founder of WinterGreen Research. "When you think of BPM, you think of manual process, but in fact, an awful lot of manual processes are being automated," she noted. Some automation has taken place for things like invoice processing.
While a lot of the cost savings from BPM have been the result of outsourcing people, those who are left at an organization have to handle more problems they might not be familiar with, Le Clair said. That is why some BPM vendors are moving toward dynamic case management, which is designed to streamline and automate work on a case-by-case basis. "While there are a lot of processes out there needing automation, the drivers are more around creating the kind of agility needed to deal with potential disruptors that are coming," he said.
What is pushing the interest in how employees work together? Organizations are revisiting collaboration and collaborative work models because of mobile devices and social media, said Lehmann, who refers to this as social business. "Social business is driving application design, SaaS services, and the way in which companies automate both structured processes and unstructured collaborative relationships," he said.
It's not enough just to know what the industry trends are; IT professionals need to take advantage of new use cases. Some companies place an emphasis on operations while others zero in on the customer, for example. "It's good to understand the context in which all of these investments are being made," Lehmann said. "That context is represented by a company's business strategy."
Le Clair concurs, noting technology management teams need to help businesses govern the cloud. "[They need] to reallocate the resources from managing infrastructure to helping the business impose solutions with apps from the more service-orchestrated cloud environment," he said.
Maxine Giza is the site editor for SearchSOA.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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